‘Award-winning’ planning chief says house building is easy

Famously, Tom Lehrer said that satire died the day that Henry Kissinger was named winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Welcome to MIPIM: oh, the irony

Welcome to MIPIM: oh, the irony

What Lehrer might have made of Croydon being presented with an award for being Britain’s best local planning authority probably could not be repeated on a family-orientated publication such as Inside Croydon.

Here at Inside Croydon Towers, we predicted the vacuous “honour” a month ago, an endorsement to our council – under Tory and now Labour control – for sucking up to developers more than the next lot.

We like to think of it as the Lie Back And Think of Westfield Trophy.

The award was presented yesterday evening at the notorious MIPIM UK benefit bash for billionaire developers and overseas property investors which is being staged in central London.

Overseen by Estates Gazette, Croydon “beat off”, if that’s the correct expression, opposition from Southwark and Sunderland. Southwark’s permanently prostate positioning for Lend Lease and the social cleansing of the old Heygate Estate places into context craven Croydon’s crawling to the likes of John Laing, Barratt’s and Redrow.

For Croydon is the “award-winning” local authority with a “black hole of debt” (copyright Mike “#WadGate” Fisher), created largely by its disastrous £450 million CCURV regeneration experiment which has been done in “partnership” with Laing, and which has included building the country’s most expensive council offices, for a cool £220 million.

And the You-Couldn’t-Make-It-Up meter went off the scale as Croydon collected the planning award on the same day that rush hour commuters experienced two-hour delays in traffic jams along the Wellesley Road following two serious road traffic accidents (one of which was fatal).

The reasons for the accidents may be a matter for discussion at some other time, but in the aftermath, as diversions were put in place, the  chaos in central Croydon was caused, in part at least, by the “improvement” works that have just started along London Road, just as West Croydon’s bus station has been closed for redevelopment, displacing 23 bus routes, and all their passengers. This is what passes for “planning” in “award-winning” Croydon.

Estates Gazette had hired the ever-busy Clare Balding to present their awards. Presumably no one asked the ubiquitous television presenter and keen cyclist what she thought of Croydon’s planning department having replaced the bike lanes along South End with extra car parking spaces. Because that is what passes for “planning” in “award-winning” Croydon.

Croydon received its award for planning on the same day that the marketing department behind The Island, aka IYLO, the residential tower block at the centre of a traffic island, took to Twitter to state: “Island is a contemporary 20-storey tower offering cinematic views of Croydon around it!”

“Cinematic”? Seriously? David Lean must be spinning.

The Island tower block owners guarantee their investors that none of its executive apartments will be occupied by those on benefits. This is what passes for “planning” in “award-winning” Croydon.

Jo Negrini at MIPIM UK: Croydon's "award-winning" planning chief

Croydon’s award-winning planning chief Jo Negrini appearing as an advocate for MIPIM UK

Even the MP for Lambeth South, Steve Reed OBE, was having a whinge about Croydon’s planning process during the day, distancing himself as far as possible from a decision taken, against his and a Norbury residents’ association’s pleadings, not to allow the expansion of a branch of Paddy Power bookmakers.

Of course, all council planning committees are severely limited in what they can do legally to block unwanted developments, something which requires amendment through legislation in parliament, where Reed sits as an MP. Will Reed be pushing Labour to hand more planning powers back to local authorities to halt the expansion of High Street bookies, as in Norbury? Don’t bet on it, as one former council leader never said.

Croydon’s planning award is, of course, entirely tokenistic and was a foregone conclusion once the council’s planning director, Jo Negrini, agreed to give a talk to MIPIM UK with the laughably absurd title that suggests that our impecunious borough is an “economic powerhouse” in the south-east.

When other Labour-controlled London boroughs were boycotting MIPIM UK because of the manner in which it encourages the handing over of public property to private developers, Negrini and her boss on the council, the entrepreneurial Nathan Elvery, gave it their full support.

Australian-born Negrini was appointed to her senior council position soon after the Australian-based shopping mall developers Westfield established their £1 billion interest in central Croydon. Yesterday, she gave an interview for the PR spinners behind MIPIM UK to justify her and Croydon’s appearance at the conference.

Watch the video and see what she thought she might achieve by being at the three-day conference. “We don’t have a development pipeline of office,” she said.

And in the midst of a London housing crisis, she says that, “It’s quite easy to build lots of houses.” Oh yes. She even emphasised the point. “It is generally quite an easy thing to do.” Which prompts sooo many questions…

It is telling that even in such a brief, three-minute clip, there are so many jump-cuts in the edit presented publicly. What could they have been cutting out? Were they doing re-takes to ensure that the correct “party line” was being taken?

And doesn’t Negrini appear distracted, frequently looking away from her interviewer? Is she bored? Maybe in the re-telling, even she has become unconvinced by the bullshit.

One thing is abundantly clear. Somewhere along the line, the people at MIPIM UK, Estates Gazette and our own Croydon Council have clearly confused the idea of a local authority undertaking its planning duties, and a sales pitch to flog off chunks of the borough to speculators. The difference ought to be important.

Coming to Croydon

  • Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 407,847 page views (Jan-Jun 2014) If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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3 Responses to ‘Award-winning’ planning chief says house building is easy

  1. davidcallam says:

    I watched the Negrini video. Fascinating!

    The thing that stuck out for me was what she called The Treasury Pitch. If I understand her, she’s asking central government, among other things, to allow a second-tier local authority with a poor planning record to keep the revenue generated by stamp duty.

    I have some sympathy with the Boris Johnson pitch for that on behalf of the GLA as the regional authority. There is an argument that says what’s good for Scotland is good for Greater London. But that doesn’t extend to the London boroughs.

    However, if Ms Negrini is spouting all this nonsense to elected councillors currently facing swingeing cuts in central government grants, whoever is elected next May, you can easily imagine Tony Newman and his colleagues letting slip their grip on reality.

    Scotland has a tough fight ahead to rest tax-raising powers from Westminster; Croydon has no chance.

  2. Jo says it’s quite easy to build lots of houses. Of the 9500 homes planned for central Croydon just how many are houses? Not many I suspect as there is more profit in blocks of flats. Many of these are sold to speculators rater than local people who will not be able to afford them. The growth in internet shopping and business transactions means demand for both retail and office centres is reducing and there is already evidence for this. I am concerned that Croydon will develop a centre that has many vacant shops, offices and flats it cannot let. Have a look at some of the developments in Spain.

  3. davidcallam says:

    There are two points that politicians of both major persuasions and their ambitious local authority administrators refuse to face. They pepper their conversations with terms like affordable housing without ever accepting that you would need twice or more the average household income to afford one of these affordable homes. And they glibly ignore the question of social housing.

    Labour is promising 200,000 homes a year by 2020; current figures suggest we will reach that level by 2017, so Labour is either being ultra cautious or it intends to put a brake on house building.

    David’s point about shopping centres misses the argument about scale. Croydon, when complete, will be the largest of three major shopping centres in Greater London. The town will attract back many of the shoppers who used to come to Croydon as well as many more besides. We may need fewer shops overall, but not in Croydon, where retailers will be clamouring for space.

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